A bumpy ride

Newly elected Town Clerk Dani Laramie Roberts (left) met with Fair Haven’s Select Board Tuesday about issues with her compensation and problems she’s had with Town Manager Joe Gunter (far right). Between them is Recording Secretary Jennifer Jackson.

FAIR HAVEN — The new town clerk is accusing the town manager of harassing her in a dispute over her pay and benefits.

Dani Laramie Roberts was elected town clerk in March, succeeding Suzanne Dechame who’d held the post for 33 years and didn’t seek reelection. Roberts was assistant town clerk for 12 years.

Roberts told the Select Board Tuesday that she’d initially believed her memorandum of understanding with the board would be fairly straightforward and comparable to what Dechame was getting.

“What I was given was insulting,” she said. “It tacked on responsibilities that belonged to a person who was employed by the town and not elected by its residents. My job description is mandated by the state. Although I was given medical and eye insurance and retirement, it was spelled out explicitly that I was to receive no paid time off, no federal holidays, no vacation, no sick time.”

She said she asked Town Manager Joe Gunter why she was being treated this way, and she said his answer to her was to smile and say “Because you’re elected and because I can.”

Roberts spoke to Select Board Chair Chris Cole about this in early March, telling him the memorandum of understanding wasn’t legal as the state requires paid sick time. She thought it best to meet in an executive session on March 22. There was no executive session on March 22, but rather a debate on the board as to whether the matter should be held in public or behind closed doors.

“I had wanted to talk to the board alone, but your wish is my command, you want it in public, so in the words of Margo Channing, ‘Buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy night,’” said Roberts.

Roberts believes the memorandum is retaliation by Gunter over her refusing to sign treasurer documents.

While Dechame served as town clerk and treasurer, Roberts only ran for town clerk. The town does not currently have a treasurer.

Roberts said Gunter has done nothing to recruit a treasurer.

“The Wednesday before the election, (Gunter) flew into the clerk’s office and asked what was going to happen without a treasurer. (Dechame) told him that she had been telling him to work on it for some time, and he hadn’t,” said Roberts. “He then turned to me and repeatedly told me that I needed to step up. (Dechame) and I both tried to tell him that after the town meeting, neither of us had any authority as treasurer or assistant treasurer. Joe did not back down and finally said he had called the state and that I could sign checks.”

Dechame was at the meeting in support of Roberts, along with Castleton Town Clerk Nedra Boutwell, Brandon Town Clerk Sue Gage and Hubbardton Town Clerk Dawn Custer. Bennington Town Clerk Cassandra Barbeau said she attended via Zoom and guessed that approximately 40 other town clerks from across Vermont were on the call.

Roberts said she signed one document under duress but refused to sign a second one.

“It was a letter giving him signing authority on the checking account,” she said. “I told him that we had been down this road. I did not have the authority after Town Meeting and was not signing it. He refused to take no for an answer.”

She said she pointed out some typographical errors in the letter for him to fix to get him out of her office while she called the secretary of state. She didn’t get much help there, she said, then Gunter came back.

“In desperation, I told him that if he got something in writing from the state, I would sign it,” she said. “He tore the letter to pieces and said, ‘The state told me no.’ I was so stunned that I was speechless.”

On March 4, while Roberts was out, Gunter allowed someone to enter the town’s records vault in violation of policy, she said. Roberts still doesn’t know who this person was or what they were doing. She noted that she should not have left the vault so that it could be opened and will not do so again. When she confronted Gunter about this, he was again, flippant.

“This is plain and simple harassment,” she said. “This is a hostile work environment, and this is against your town policy.”

She said that as town clerk, she expects to be treated with respect, to be paid in accordance with her experience, to receive full benefits and paid time off for vacations, and federal holidays.

“And I expect a raise every year,” she said. “I would like town policy to officially include how all elected officials are compensated so this will never happen again.”

Roberts said this is what most town clerks in Vermont get, and she’s not asking for anything Dechame wasn’t given.

What followed was a back and forth between Roberts and members of the board about her salary. Select Board member Jay Brown said voters approved $37,000 for the position, which Roberts knew when she ran for the post.

“You run for the job for what it pays, and if the townspeople decide to pay X amount of dollars, fine, that’s what we pay,” said board member Bob Richards. “I just don’t think we should continually keep going higher and higher, I just don’t.”

He said at one point, the clerk’s job was on track to be the highest paid in town.

“So the clerk wouldn’t need to get a cost of living increase because, of course, she doesn’t eat, does she?” said Roberts.

Roberts also had issues with being paid her assistant town clerk rate of $14.65 an hour until the new fiscal year. She said there’s money in the budget to pay the town clerk during this period and she should be paid out of that.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously to pay Roberts what’s left in the town clerk salary budget between Town Meeting Day and June 30, then from July 1 on to pay her regularly at a salary of $37,000.

“You work for the voters of Fair Haven, you don’t work for the Select Board,” said Cole before the vote. “If you want a week’s vacation, you take a week’s vacation. If the voters don’t like that they won’t vote for you next time.”

The board also agreed to research what has been budgeted for benefits, which Roberts said were included in one of the memorandum of understanding floated to her.

Brown and other board members said Roberts shouldn’t be experiencing any form of harassment.

“The real serious allegations from earlier, we need to do an investigation,” said board member Glen Traverse.

At the meeting, Gunter appeared perplexed by Roberts’ statements. He said Wednesday that he wasn’t comfortable commenting on the situation until the board completes its investigation.

keith.whitcomb

@rutlandherald.com

You must be logged in to react.
Click any reaction to login.
0
0
0
1
0

(1) comment

pdallen1970

How unfortunate that Dani was treated the way she treats other people. As someone on the receiving end if her nastiness and vitriol, she probably deserved it.

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.